Self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own is due to go to the polls in January with VP William Lai the frontrunner.
Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai has said any Chinese military action in response to his stopovers in the United States as part of a visit to Paraguay would be China’s attempt to interfere in the island’s forthcoming presidential elections.
Lai, who will be the ruling party’s candidate in January, made the comments in Paraguay where he attended the inauguration of President Santiago Peña.
He travelled to Paraguay, one of Taiwan’s few remaining formal diplomatic allies, via New York and is expected to return via San Francisco.
Lai told reporters such stopovers were routine and China had no cause to use them as an excuse to “verbally and militarily intimidate Taiwan”, the island’s official Central News Agency reported.
“If China uses the transits as an excuse to again launch verbal and military intimidation or other threatening methods, it just confirms international media reports that China is attempting to intervene in Taiwan’s election with military threats,” the news agency cited Lai as saying.
Beijing claims the self-ruled island as its own territory and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goal.
Taiwanese officials have said China could launch military drills as soon as this week. In the week leading up to Lai’s departure for Paraguay, incursions by the Chinese military around the island’s waters and airspace – which have been happening nearly every day in the past year – were larger than usual.
Lai, who is the frontrunner for the January election, has in the past described himself as a “practical worker for Taiwan independence” and says it is up to the people of Taiwan to decide their future.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Tuesday it had yet to see any large-scale Chinese manoeuvres near the island.
In April, China began war games around Taiwan after President Tsai Ing-wen met with US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on her way back from Central America. It also held large-scale military exercises after McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, visited Taipei.
China has condemned Lai’s New York stop and described him as a separatist “troublemaker”.
Taiwan and the US have sought to keep Lai’s US stopovers low key and Lai said there were “no special arrangements” to meet US officials.
“There is no reason to over-torque this transit into anything escalatory,” US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters on Monday.
He said it was the 11th time in 20 years that a Taiwanese vice president had travelled through the US, which maintains formal ties with Beijing as well as a strong relationship with Taiwan.
“This is consistent with our One China policy. We are not interested in deviating from the status quo,” Patel said.
It should not be “any kind of pretext or coercion or provocative activity”, he added.